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Are smart phones and social media safe for our kids?

Are smart phones and social media safe for our kids?

I am pretty sure just yesterday I was changing my first born’s nappies but alas, here we are and she is about to turn 12. High school is next year. How? HOW? While it’s difficult to comprehend, there is so much I am loving about the new stage she’s at. She has a fabulous sense of humour, we share a love of singing and musical theatre and we enjoy going shopping together and stopping for hot chocolates. But the big looming black cloud in our home at the moment is the question she has asked us, ‘when can I get a phone?’. We’ve ignored even thinking about this for so long but it’s here, the questions are coming and we need to have an answer. Which means we need to do some serious research and thinking.

On one hand, the answer is simple. Absolutely no way. We don’t have to be research scholars to know that phones are bad for our kids. So the answer is easy right, just say no. But as any parent reading this would also know, it’s not that easy. First there’s the safety issue. She is going to start traveling to school on her own so she needs one for safety right? And then there’s the friends. ALL her friends have phones AND they all have Snapchat. If she doesn’t have Snapchat too, she won’t know what’s happening and she will miss out on knowing what everyone is talking about. As a pre teen girl, this is a huge deal. So what are we as parents to do? How can we make the right decision that makes everyone happy?

The short answer is, maybe we can’t. Parenting expert, author and speaker Lael Stone came and did a talk at our school about raising resilient and compassionate children. I was sitting on my hand waiting for the Q&A portion of her talk ready to shoot it straight up. My question was, ‘how do we say no to social media when all their friends have it’. As soon as the words came out of my mouth I kind of felt like it was a silly question but I was interested to hear her answer nonetheless. Her answer went along the lines of:

‘We are their parents, not their friends. It’s our job to protect them, not make them happy all the time. We can say no. Our kids may be angry at us. They may say they hate us. But the alternative, letting them have social media, will have far worse consequences. One day, they will look back and be so thankful their parents cared so much about them that they made hard decisions because they knew it was best for them’.

Wow. I mean this is all the stuff I already know and say to my friends and family regularly. But hearing it come from someone else’s mouth made it hit harder. It would be FAR easier to give in, ignore the negative information we hear and just say yes. No fights, no answering back and a happy child. In the moment, we feel good and our child feels good. For now. Let’s dig a little deeper into exactly what the research is saying.

 

SELF HARM AND DEPRESSION

2010 was the year that smart phones and social media became ubiquitous, it was common place and everywhere. And since 2010 there has been a very steady increase in the rates of attempted suicides (see CDC data here) in teens and rates of depression. Take the graph below for instance.
self harm graph in teens
The CDC data on self-harm among girls, nearly doubled among older teens but quadrupled among 10 to 14-year-olds. QUADRUPLED. I can’t even fathom that statistic. And no doubt this has a lot to do with covid too. Social media use increased during 2020 and 2021 due to the social lockdowns and restrictions we faced. So, many kids and teens lost the ability to socially interact with their peers and even lost the desire too.

 

Sadly, like a lot of people, we have mental health in our family, including suicide. So protecting the mental health of our children is absolutely paramount to us. I read a quote the other day from Hollywood star Michelle Pfeifer that really resonated with me. She wrote,

‘Imagine something embarrassing happened to you when you were in the 7th grade. Everyone laughed and it was awful and you were mortified. Then a few weeks passed and everyone found new things to laugh about and they moved on. You didn’t forget how embarrassed you were, but you could move on too.

Now imagine you did something embarrassing in 7th grade, today. And everyone laughed and it was awful. But someone also caught it on Snapchat. And turned it into a meme. And a Tik Tok. And everyone in school saw it. And took a screen shot of it. And spread it further. And you couldn’t get away from it. And no one forgot. And you couldn’t either. And people were still resharing it months later. Just sit there and imagine it for a minute. Kids aren’t ready for social media. It starts with us parents.’

 snapchat

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT

There is also medical evidence that explains why preteens (from around 10 years old) start seeking social rewards based on their brain development, and why it is so dangerous for them to be getting them from social media.  As Mitch Prinstein, APA’s chief science officer, says, “It’s time we stopped trying to make a profit on kids’ developing brains”.

Instead, let’s look for other ways that our children can get that dopamine hit that their developing brains crave. For our daughter, we have her enrolled in a few different activities that she loves. She is part of an incredible family oriented dance club, where she gets plenty of opportunities for the social rewards her brain needs. She is also part of a youth group that our local church runs. It’s a bunch of teens getting together to chat, play fun games, socialise (and maybe eat the odd lolly or chip too!) It’s a place where she has been building strong connections with other girls her own age in a positive and nurturing environment. So between school, her dancing, her youth group and her own family, she has so many opportunities throughout each week to be socially connected and to get that approval and attention her brain is wired to crave. This will hopefully fill her cup and she will be less likely to turn to social media as those needs are being met.

 group of girl friend linking arms

ONLINE PREDATORS

GSF Global says, ‘Teens are generally more at risk from predators. Because they are curious and want to be accepted, they may talk to a predator willingly, even if they know it's dangerous.’ What a scary fact to read. We think that because our children are in our home, they are safe. But sadly it doesn’t take more than a quick google search to see how wrong this thought it. Here is a story of how a 10 year old was targeted by 16 men on her ipad through Snapchat and Skype and what steps you can take to protect your child against predators. 

 

ADDICTION

Then there is the issue of our kids being constantly ‘on’. If they have a phone and/or social media, it consumes them. It’s all they think about. We can even understand this as well adjusted, educated adults. My husband and I would say we are very self aware when it comes to the use of our phones and it’s impact on our family and our relationships, and even WE still find ourselves mindlessly scrolling from time to time. It’s a trap. It was designed that way. Get this! While reading Justin Coulson’s book Miss-Connection, we read that when CEO of YouTube was asked who their biggest competitors were he answered, ‘Facebook, Instagram and sleep. And we are wining the battle against sleep’. Wait, what? Did I just read that right? They are boasting to be winning the battle against sleep! I’ll just leave you to sit with that one for a while!

My husband and I have to physically put our phone chargers in the laundry so they are out of our bedroom, because even as fully grown adults with fully developed brains and strong self control, we still find we get sucked in!

I saw this video on the MamaMia website and I thought it was SO accurate! Have a watch here!  I want my daughter to be sitting on the train, looking out the window, with time to just be, to think and to wonder. Those crucial things are missing if her head is buried in a phone.

The area of social media and kids/teens is such a rabbit hole. There is just so much information and I have only just scratched the surface with some of the concerns that are present. But I hope it’s enough to get you at least thinking about whether or not social media is right for your child.

 

SAFETY

‘But what about the safety aspect’, I hear some of you say. As our kids reach high school they begin to have more independence and they start to spend more time without adults. Whether it’s traveling to and from school, going to parties, walking to the shops alone etc there will be more and more times when there is not an adult nearby. And as a parent, this scares the absolute heck out of me. Particularly with the rise of car drivers using their mobile phones while on the road. So I absolutely see the value of having a phone or a way of contacting our children, and them us.

SO I have an idea. Before you spit your coffee out, hear me out….bring back the brick. Yep, I am officially going to create a new bumper sticker. Well, not really, but I hope the idea catches on! After some research the good old Nokia 8210 seems like a great alternative to the smart phone. In fact after looking into it more the idea is growing on me for myself!!

Here’s what I like about it:

PROS

  • Cheap, around $100
  • Easy to use
  • Large display screen
  • Inbuilt MP3 player so favourite songs can be stored (this is particularly handy as my daughter listens to meditation music and audio books at night)
  • Inbuilt FM radio
  • Text and calls so they can still be connected to their friends and family
  • Durable and lasts forever so it can be passed down to each child
  • Pre paid options- so our kids can be fully responsible for any costs they incur
  • No internet- so no spam or inappropriate content to pop up
  • Inbuilt camera. Though this aspect could also be a con! 
  • No selfie camera
  • And last but not least, it has snake! Ok, maybe this is not a good one for us parents #addictedmuch haha

If the camera is an issue for you, there are phones out there that don’t have cameras like this one 

If you also don’t like the idea of texting you can get phones that can only call and not text, like this one 

But I have to be honest, I don’t mind the idea of texting. I think it’s important to have this feature. There may be times when texting is the most appropriate option. For example they could be in a library or cinema where they can’t talk or possibly where they don’t feel safe to talk so texting is a discrete option to contact us. Or let’s be real, the option to text ‘is that assignment due tomorrow?’ is going to happen at some point!

 group of friends with arms around each other

So, with all that said, we still haven’t made a hard and fast decision on what kind of phone and when our daughter will be receiving one. We really want to take the time to research this properly and to make the most informed decision we can. She is still in primary school as I write this so all I know for sure, is that she will not be getting one until she is at least at high school. And at this point in time, a brick phone is looking like a really good compromise.

I would love to hear your comments or feedback or any ideas you have or will try. I am a big believer in the whole ‘village’ concept and that sharing our knowledge and ideas is power. The more we share our ideas the more empowered we will be as parents when making these tough decisions!

Love and light to you all,

Angelique x

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